We Must Stop Living Throw-Away Lives.

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This is not about who we are or what we do, but rather what we consume. In the not-so-distant past, humans either made or purchased items they needed that lasted a lifetime. How many of you have parents or grandparents that have had the same stuff in their homes for their entire lives? I would venture to guess that the majority of those over the age of 60 have many high-quality goods in their home that could last another generation. And I would also guess that the majority of people 35 and under have stuff that will barely carry them into their 50’s…if even that long. Their furniture, clothing, kitchenware, and even possibly their homes are made of cheaper materials that don’t last nearly as long as they should.

And where does this stuff end up at the end of its short lifespan? Nothing actually “goes away”, even when it leaves your house for places unknown. While it may not be your problem anymore, now it is everyone’s problem – either through land taken up for burying it in or the pollution coming from incinerating it. More and more “throw-away” stuff is being sold in stores now, which means these problems are only going to continue to get worse. Saving $1 by shopping at that big-box store that shall remained unnamed contributes to way more than $1 worth of damage we have to clean up later, so by saving $1 today we end up spending more later. The key to ending this madness that is leading us down a spiraling drain?


Creative Commons License photo credit: eob

Stop living throw-away lives.

We have to start spending our money on items that will still be around to hand down to our kids someday, or at a bare minimum can be resold to someone else looking for a quality vintage piece. You know how so many love that mid-century modern furniture that can still be found in second-hand stores across the country? It’s still there because it is timeless and well-built. What will be left over from the furniture we buy that we assemble ourselves and/or buy at that big-box store? Not much – it doesn’t stand a chance at lasting 50 years or becoming an heirloom piece. It will end up in a landfill in a few short years, more than likely.

The same goes for our clothes, our shoes, our electronics, what our food comes packaged in, the tools we buy, our kids’ toys, and even our homes. We need to start demanding better-made goods for when we do go shopping, and if our demands are not met, make careful choices about where we do our shopping. Sure, we can’t always buy the best or the most long-lasting; I will fully admit that I am as guilty as anyone else in that I have bought things that won’t last as long as they should. But I am trying! By being conscious about what we are buying, instead of just grabbing the cheapest version of whatever we need, we can make the changes necessary to stop living throw-away lives. After all, there is no “away”…keep that in mind the next time you are deciding to spend the extra money on something that will last a long time versus something you can tell won’t last a year. That extra “savings” is anything but.

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Comments

  1. Wonderful post! I never used to worry about all the “stuff” that is available for consumption. When I was young, there was less “stuff” and most of it was biodegradable. Now, far too much of it goes into our landfills and, if we don’t find a way to recycle or reuse it, will last into or hasten the earth’s twilight years.

  2. Great Post! I’m obsessed with consumption lately. I’m actually very surprised at how little my family consumes. It just takes a little awareness in the grocery store and elsewhere to decrease one’s consumption ten fold. As a family of five we fill one small grocery bag per week with garbage. I’ve also decreased our recyclables by watching what foods/products I buy and how they are packaged.

  3. Good post.

    I’m lucky in that I’ve inherited some great furniture from grandparents that’s lasted already for fifty years or more, and will last for another fifty years at least. But the new stuff I bought myself? No way it’ll last that long, most of it.

  4. Great post! I agree whole heartily. And with the houses that went into foreclosure, they left a lot of stuff that was still in great shape, and the people who were sent to clean it up, had to take a lot of it to the landfill. As I get older a lot of the stuff we had as children, are now antiques. I look for stuff that I can get fixed, but they are so hard to find. My first VCR, I could take it and get it cleaned and fixed. Now the DVD player I have is not like that. And I make a point to get things, where the package they are in is recyclable, I do what I can, to do my part. Thanks for your posts, they are so thought provoking.

  5. A funny thought occurred to me when I read this post. Can you imagine what The Antique Roadshow on PBS will be like in 100 or 200 years from now? There won’t be anything left for them to have on the show! The stuff we buy and use today is so cheap that it will all be gone (or at least in landfills). It is definitely time to demand higher quality goods!

  6. Great post! I always encourage people to buy fewer toys and just let kids play. The imagination and the great outdoors make better “play things” than any toy ever manufactured. If you want to buy toys, check yard sales and thrift stores — you’ll be amazed at what you can find.

    Cheers- Bethe

  7. I totally agree – and my green parenting blog has taken a turn to address trash and plastic lately. (thanks to Beth at FakePlasticFish). But I feel that real changes won’t happen until we address poverty. If interested see my post about Maslow’s Pyramid and Trash –

    http://www.puremothers.com/?p=931

  8. The nameless big box (WalMart) forces manufacturers to produce items cheaply for an unreasonably low price point. That means outsourcing production to the cheapest bidder – China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, etc. You just can’t train big-box staff to highlight the quality of an item as a talking point because true value is lost when the price point matters more than the item. Designer doesn’t always equal quality. Designer items are most often produced by the lowest bidder as well. I know this because I’m a recovering marketing manager from the retail service realm. I almost lost my soul to the devil.
    It’s time we elevate our standards. Stop listening to creepy advertisements. Re-establish the lost cultural centers, re-ignite our local co-ops and farmer’s markets, re-engage our craftspeople and artisans, then re-cycle when appropriate. Shame on America for shopping at Wal-mart.

  9. My kids are sleeping on beds older than are. When my husband and I were first engaged we had the money to get furniture so we opted for futon frames that we could use either as twin beds or as chairs. Until the kids were born they were our living room furniture. Now they are back to being beds.

  10. This is so right – and Sage above also makes an excellent point about the retail sector. One of the big culprits (at least in Europe) is Ikea. By offering designed items at rock bottom prices and presenting them in ever-changing room-settings, alongside dirt cheap but attractively presented small items for the home (“I’ve just got to have that cheery coloured plastic colander – even though I have a perfectly serviceble dull one at home”)they have created a real desire for new, new new. A couple of years ago I did some marketing work for a long-established and once leading edge designer glassware and tableware company. Their sales and those of the small independent stores that supplied them had depended on the wedding list – with couples buying high quality goods to last them through their married life. By the time I did my reserch for them, this had been replaced by couples buying a set of cheap tableware for a couple of years and then chucking it away and updating it when they restyled their room. Now most of those small specialist stores are closed and perfectly good china and homewares are buried in landfill.

  11. Great post, and a marvelous follow-up comment by sage mcgreen.

    When I was growing up, no one needed to demand better-made goods because the people / smaller companies making things cared. They CARED. It’s like the smaller, family-owned restaurant: When your name’s on the marguee, you put the full value – your name’s worth – behind what you’re selling.

    The craftsmanship, literally and figuratively, was evident in every facet of what you were buying.

    And it’s not just in tangible items – look at Hollywood. Sitcoms used to be crafted with tender, loving care. There was less time available for shows so only the best…or the better…made the cut. Now, you really have to seek out 22 minutes of supreme creativity.

    In actual items – in what we watch – in what we listen to….we SHOULD demand that things are made better. Unfortunately, with plentiful options, true caring goes out the window. We simply drive to a different show, a different restaurant or…we turn to a different channel.

  12. I am living in a developing country with a thriving second hand clothing trade. The souks are a great place to compare the durability of different clothing brands. I look for Hanes and Fruit of the Loom ‘HEAVY’

    As far as clothing goes, Africa is the mythical Away. By the time clothes gets here they have been discounted so much that soiled or otherwise unsalable goods are dumped on the roadside.

  13. What’s the point? Manufacturers won’t make better products because its not “cost effective.” They don’t care about how long their products last, in fact they’re hoping to get repeat buyers. There’s been a shift from buying a product that lasts 50 years to throwing away stuff after a few years simply because its a few years old. We caused it, thinking since we had so much money it didn’t matter if our stuff broke.

    The only way people will make better products is if there are alternative products to buy, and consumers stop buying the $1 widget and buy the much better quality $5 widget. I recently needed some new kitchen scissors. I spent $7 at the big blue store, they’re crap. The handle is already broken. My parents have some nice completely metal scissors they’ve had since the 70s. They keep ’em sharp, and they work great. I can’t find any scissors like that anywhere.

    Companies have stopped making the great products because they can make the crap products for cheaper AND sell more of them. Its a social thing, people need to change and go back to the way things were before companies change and offer better products.

    But what’s the point? People aren’t going to change, and the small percentage of those who do (I’m all for it, I’d rather spend $20 on a pair of scissors that isn’t gonna break on me 3 months after I buy them) want to change won’t be able to because the source of crappy goods isn’t going to increase their quantity.

    And besides, how do you measure quality? If there is some kind of metric, I can’t think of it. So there’s no way stores would know without doing expensive testing on products before selling them. Manufacturers won’t do testing, just certification. And no one ever tries to go after companies for offering warranties on products then stating the warranty doesn’t protect against “wear and tear” which is how the products break in the first place.

    Good luck!

    1. The point is to try to do the right thing. And the more people that do it and choose better products, the better.

      I don’t shop at the big box store that we are talking about here, because of the reasons everyone listed. I take my money elsewhere.

  14. Really great post and very relevant right now. We have a similar outlook, and encourage people to buy used furniture, and repair and maintain the furniture they already have.

  15. I believe that people fall into the trap of keeping up with everything else and having the best, newest and most modern. This is a bit of a ‘snobby’ way to live. People actually end up with, yes beautiful but otherwise boring homes that look more or less like the one next door. A bit of personality and creativity in a home is better. People could consider buying old second hand furniture from thrift stores and could easily update then by painting. These could end up as beautiful romantic furniture which bought new would cost a forture. People should pride themselves in being unique and in these tough financial times invest money in good times and spending time with the people they care about. Possessions fade and we cant take them with us but memories last a lifetime!

  16. Psycho-consumerism, propagandized by wild-eyed, highly commissioned, advertising agents, and huge psychology-based think tanks of the corporatists, have created the “American Dream” illusions! We the people have not held them, or their motives in suspicion! They are a clever lot, these advertising folk of corporate support, and they have us totally hoodwinked into massive overconsumption – to the point where our over sized bodies don’t fit our huge SUV’s and McMansions are built for commissions, to builders and lenders, and to be foreclosed, to churn municipal monies and lot sales, not for human habitation and survival of humanity in economic downturns at all! This mass – indoctrination by the corporatists of America has left the people in the streets over-extended, living beyond their means to fulfill somebody else’s wildest dreams and convinced that the only lifestyle yielding satisfaction and happiness is the propagandists’ unsustainable but highly profitable nonsense! Planned obsolescence and annual model changes to exploit human pride, were the downfall of the unsustainable American automotive industry and its’ slick psychologies, and likewise, corn based industries are about to fall! Corn production in America is directly controlled by the price and availability of oil! The “Cheap Oil Era” yielded the “Cheap Corn Era”! Americans built a Factory Farm industry, and all that follows, and depends on the Factory Farm industry, on this one axiom! All will fall like a “house of cards” when Oil becomes scarce or expensive – this time has come! Oil broke $75.00bbl this week! Asians out-bid Americans for oil today, and their demand grows exponentially as the supply of oil declines in similar fashion! Corn Ethanol, is soon to become a rare commodity in the U.S.! corn based sweeteners – same story! Cheap meat ”“ same story, Sweetened cereals ”“ same story! Plastics – all oil based, soon to see huge price increases! Our throw-away society, based on plastics soon to be forced out of the market-place! We have no substitute for Oil! Solar, Wave, Wind, Hydro, Tidal,and Geo-Thermal provide Power on perpetual scale,no doubt! Nuclear helps, providing, dirty power, but fast and steady! But: Only oil yields hydrocarbons,and cheap corn, and liquid fuels, and plastics, and fertilizers, and asphalt, for roadways, and chemicals – we will have to choose where we use scarcer, costlier, oil in the near future, just to survive, and psycho-consumerism will not out-rank heat for homes, fuel for cars. The Great American paradigm shift has begun! We are being morphed by forces outside our control into the new,”Fourth Turning” and the true “Age of Aquarius” by Mother Nature herself! Watch for astounding, fast, changes, in a computer driven age, with high tech communications, and stellar, cutting computer derived precision. Watch for Asia, more intellectual power than America ever had, and hungry for everything America has, Watch for the World Monetary System to convulse, Watch for food shortages in America, Polluted waters, no longer free and clean, to come into play, and massive societal turmoil, even to the streets, as the Urban folks seek food, employment and heat, Rural folks dig in, and the age of the oil wars in the world begins! Iran, just sold the South Azadegan Oil Field, the biggest find in the last thirty years in the Middle East, to China! Expect Chinese plutonium and Chinese delivery systems for it there, soon! To protect Chinese Oil! And Afghanistan? Halliburton(Dubai)’s play for a pipeline to Turkmenistan and China’s oil fields there? Look for a Nuclear confrontation with China as the end result of that folly! All this for American psycho-consumerism and a “Throw -Away ” society? Yes! and wars in Mexican streets for drug-sales rights in America too! and the American dollar, the object of all this evil, in free-fall, with gold breaking $1100.00 U.S. Yesterday! I smell calamity on the wind! Do you? Consumerism be damned!

  17. Until we learn to consume and purchase on a quality based model again, I fear this will go one for the foreseeable future. Society is so wrapped up in instant gratification that they cannot see beyond the moment much less the day, week, month or year. We must learn to use what we have, repair instead of toss and when we do purchase to purchase products that are preowned if possible and if not purchase based on a products usefulness and longevity.

  18. I was trying to decide where I stood with reference to eReaders like the the Kindle recently. I decided that they would have been a great idea if they were built to last for a lifetime. I’m 110% sure that they are not. A book will last for much longer, especially if it is cared for by a library when not in use.

    1. Yea, I dont like them either. Most people will buy a new one every couple of years, and then we end up w/more e-waste. Books are the way to go.

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